Saturday, April 16, 2011

Great balls of fire: Cosmic sight of 90 burning interstellar 'filaments' that are each 230,000 times the size of the EARTH - 16th Apr 2011

Scientists have discovered that gaseous filaments in nearby interstellar clouds are 230,000 times bigger than the size of Earth and often contain newly-born stars.

And because each filament is approximately the same width, a team from the European Space Agency's Herschel observatory now believes they may have been formed by interstellar sonic booms throughout the Milky Way.

Filaments in interstellar clouds have been photographed previously, but never in enough detail to have their widths measured. The latest images show that, regardless of the length or density of a filament, the width is always roughly the same.

The team analysed 90 filaments and found they were all about 0.3 light years across, or about 20,000 times the distance of Earth from the Sun - which is 93million miles.

'This is not direct proof, but it is strong evidence for a connection between interstellar turbulence and filaments. It provides a very strong constraint on theories of star formation,' said Dr Philippe André.

'The connection between these filaments and star formation used to be unclear, but now thanks to Herschel, we can actually see stars forming like beads on strings in some of these filaments,' added Herschel Project Scientist Göran Pilbratt. Read More